27th April 2017. When you think of the word exercise, what activities come to mind immediately? For many people, the answer will likely be jogging. Running is the stereotypical activity we can easily imagine anyone doing. With the growing popularity of fun runs and marathon races, running continues to grow in public visibility. Have you ever considered running for fitness? Many people think of running as something they "hate" ? but it doesn't have to be that way. Though it can be tough to acclimatise at the beginning of a running regimen, many come to love the challenges it offers and the benefits they gain. With that said, where should you begin if you want to tackle this sport for yourself? How many times a week should you go out running? How far should you go during each session? These are the types of questions everyone has when they first start. There are other decisions to make, too. To be successful in your efforts, you'll need to figure out the answers for yourself. However, we can help you arrive at those answers. Let's now consider the various aspects of running for fitness and how you can make it work for your body.

How often should you run for the best fitness effects?

Finding the motivation to tie up your shoelaces and head out on a run can be one of the most challenging tasks you face each day. However, it's important to run more than once or even twice a week if you want to see actual improvements. Most beginners wonder what kind of running frequency they should observe. There is a simple answer: you should run three times a week at an absolute minimum. On the days you don't run, replace that activity with another exercise. We'll talk more about how to do that later. Three is the minimum because there are three types of running for fitness; it's important for you to include at least one of each during every week. Otherwise, you will develop irregularly or put yourself at risk for a sports injury. Race types break down into the following classes: one run at your maximum distance; one of moderate distance but varying tempo; and a short distance run done quickly. These help you to develop both endurance and better speed over time. Ideally, you should run five days a week, with two "rest" days from running. Some pros and other fitness lovers will run up to seven days, or even multiple times in the same day. While that can work for some, it is very challenging. Save that type of schedule for when your skills are more advanced. Once you know how often you should head out, how far should you travel?

Determining how many miles to run

To enjoy the cardio benefits and other health boosts that accompany running, you should aim to cover about 2 miles when you're just starting. Of course, for some, making it to even one mile is an accomplishment. Don't be afraid to spend time running up to a mile or a mile and a half when you don't have the endurance to go longer. However, 2 miles should be the baseline ability for which you strive. From there, begin working to develop towards four miles. That is the point where your ability opens many other options and possibilities. Every other week, push harder. Add an extra mile onto the end of your run and keep going until you've finished. By increasing the stress a little every two weeks, you challenge your body to make improvements. Not only will you see results in your cardio endurance from this process, but it will strengthen your legs too. Combined with the proper stretching and warm-up/cool-down procedures, you can put everyday soreness behind you. So, you know how often you should run and even how far you should go, but where should you do that running? Will you keep it outdoors, or should you go inside and hit the treadmill? It's a complex question, but let's think about the basics.

Running inside versus running outside: which is best?

There are pros and cons both to road running and treadmill running; in fact, we've discussed them in some depth before. However, it's worth revisiting. Overall, you should strongly consider running outdoors if you can. Contending with the weather helps you develop, and there's nothing wrong with working up a sweat under the sun since it promotes vitamin D production. Additionally, outdoor running offers different challenges, including uphill sections, turns, and more. These are things you just can't replicate with a treadmill. The natural variations in terrain you encounter outdoors will help provide more tone to your muscles. However, we understand that there are times when running outside isn't feasible. It could be storming heavily, or perhaps the temperatures are too cold. In either scenario, falling back to using a treadmill is an acceptable solution. Treadmill surfaces deliver less wear and tear on your joints as well, so it is an ideal way to run in a more "low impact" manner. Using a treadmill also allows you to focus your attention on something else. If you struggle with boredom on long runs and it causes you to quit early, try running on a treadmill for a while.

The fitness benefits you can expect to experience

If you plan to do all of this running, what specific benefits will you experience? Setting personal bests for a mile time might not be enough for you; instead, you want to feel you're improving physical fitness. First, think of all the calories your body burns on a run ? up to about 12 calories every minute at a regular racing pace. That can help contribute to weight loss when combined with a proper diet. That number only increases, too, if you run outdoors and encounter hills. Running strengthens your legs immeasurably because it involves many different muscles, it uses muscles from your calves all the way up to your glutes. With other exercises, you can develop impressive muscle tone and power in your legs. Your core muscles, responsible for stability as you run, will see a workout, too. If you focus on endurance, you can especially expect to see some muscle growth. Speaking of muscles, running also has a positive influence on the most important muscle of all ? the heart. Regularly "getting the blood pumping" has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. On its own, that's reason enough to run!

The importance of cross-training ? and what it is

We've mentioned that on the days you aren't running, you should be doing something else. That "something else" is cross-training. In other words, you want to work on other areas of your body to supplement the fitness improvements running offers. Cross-training can take many forms, and ultimately, it is up to you. However, it can be helpful to add weight training to your days off. Doing squats and leg presses can give you a store of endurance to tap into on your next long run. Other fitness options, such as swimming or even yoga, are ideal as well. The point is to train "across" your whole body. Because running doesn't work out the arms or back muscles very much, for example, one should choose exercises like curls for your cross-training days. Mixing it up ensures a well-rounded approach to fitness while also keeping some amount of exercise in your life every day. While you don't need to turn into a bodybuilder while you cross-train, you shouldn't laze about on your "off" days. The only time you should be fully resting is when you're injured!

Make running the bedrock of your fitness

It's a long journey from taking the first "baby steps" of one or two outings a week to running almost every day. However, along the way, you will hopefully discover it is a rewarding activity. Plus, with the opportunity to spend time out in nature and enjoying the weather, it is good for your mental health too. Remember, not to give up when you feel you're up against a wall from the start. Keep pushing, and you'll soon find that the time it takes to run out of breath grows longer and longer. Who knows? You might even find yourself on the starting line of a 5k soon.